(2nd UPDATE) For the first time in a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers are headed to the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers started off fast and then finished strong to take a 119-96 victory in Game 5, sending the Houston Rockets packing from the NBA playoffs.
The victory on Saturday at the Walt Disney World Complex sent the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010 — when the team, led by the late Kobe Bryant, defeated the Phoenix Suns and then went on to beat the Boston Celtics for the championship.
LeBron James had 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Anthony Davis had 13 points, 11 boards, and four dimes for the Lakers. Four other players reached double-digits for LA, including Kyle Kuzma, who had 17 points off the bench.
"The reason I wanted to be a part of this franchise is to take them back to a place they were accustomed to being. And that's competing for a championship," said James.
"It's an honor for me to wear the purple and gold, and for us to just try to continue the legacy and just play great basketball for our fans," added James, who will be playing in the conference finals for the 11th time in his career.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Lakers. They raced out to a 13-2 lead, and were up 35-20 after the opening frame.
But Houston recovered in the second quarter by pouncing on the Lakers' turnovers, and the lead was just 11 points, 62-51, at the half.
The Lakers ramped up the intensity in the third quarter, where they outscored Houston 33-18. Their lead ballooned to 30 points, 101-71, with under 11 minutes left to play off a Rajon Rondo three-pointer.
"Everything is falling into place. When I got here, the goal was to win a championship, and now we are eight wins away," said Davis.
Houston had no answer for the Lakers' offense, allowing them to shoot 52.7% from the field — including 19-of-37 from three-point range. The Lakers also clobbered the Rockets on the boards once more, 50-31.
Houston shot just 37.1% from the field in the game, with Russell Westbrook again struggling as he made only four of 13 field goals for 10 points.
James Harden had 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but he also had half of Houston's 12 turnovers. Jeff Green, with 13 points, was the only other Rocket in double-digits.
"Tough season for us. Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it to. So, we just got to figure it out," Harden said.
"It's very, very frustrating. Especially the amount of work individually I put in," he said. "But I've got to keep chipping away. I've got to keep going and keep going until I can't go anymore."
"I feel like we're a piece away, and we've just got to keep trying to figure it out. Keep trying to put the pieces around me and Russ to get us where we want to go," said Harden.
Tempers flared in the fourth quarter both on and off the floor. The brother of Lakers Rajon Rondo now has the dubious honor of being the first fan thrown out of a bubble game after he exchanged words with Houston's Westbrook.
The public is not allowed in the arena because of the coronavirus pandemic but players are allowed to invite a limited number of family and friends to watch the games in person.
The Rockets were missing Danuel House who was booted from the NBA quarantine bubble after a league investigation revealed he violated "campus health and safety" protocols.
LA will play the winner of the other semifinals series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers have a 3-2 lead in the series. -- With a report from Agence France-Presse.